American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
September 2012

Income Trends, Housing Trends, Class Trends


To see Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog, click here.

1. Hot Trends 

Few Surprises in 2011 Income Data       

Median household income fell 1.5 percent between 2010 and 2011–to $50,054 after adjusting for inflation, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The median has been declining every year since the $54,489 of 2007. But the housing bubble and its excesses had inflated the 2007 figure. In fact, the peak occurred all the way back in 1999 when median household income was $54,932 (in 2011 dollars).


Income Trends by Age    

The continuing decline in median household income is no surprise given our current position at the bottom of an economic trough carved out by the Great Recession. To get a feel for what’s happening down here in the muck, take a look at Current Population Survey data on median household income by age in 2011 and the percent change in the median (in 2011 dollars) since 2010 and 2000…


Under age 25: $30,460

Change, 2010-11: +4.6%

Change, 2000-11: -16.2%

This is one of only two age groups to see an increase in median household income between 2010 and 2011. What accounts for their good fortune? Attrition. Many young adults, unable to find jobs, gave up living independently and moved back in with their parents. This demographic segment has finally hit bottom, and young householders with jobs are all that remains.


Aged 25 to 34: $50,774

Change, 2010-11: -1.3%

Change, 2000-11: -12.5%

Young adults are continuing to lose ground. Consequently, this age group is delaying marriage, postponing childbearing, and reluctant or unable to become homeowners.


Aged 35 to 44: $61,916

Change, 2010-11: -2.3%

Change, 2000-11: -11.8%

Family expenses are rising to a peak among householders aged 35 to 44. Their large losses over the past decade suggest trouble lies ahead for the college market.  


Aged 45 to 54: $63,861

Change, 2010-11: -0.7%

Change, 2000-11: -15.1%

The median household income of this age group has fallen by an astounding $12,945 since its $76,806 peak in 1999. The relatively small 2010-11 decline may mean the age group is hitting bottom.


Aged 55 to 64: $55,937

Change, 2010-11: -4.0%

Change, 2000-11: -4.5%

The oldest baby boomers were the biggest losers between 2010 and 2011. This is not a good sign as they struggle to rebuild their nest eggs for retirement.  


Aged 65 or older: $33,118

Change, 2010-11: +2.0%

Change, 2000-11: +9.9%

This is one of only two age groups to gain ground between 2010 and 2011. It is the only age group to have seen its median income grow during the 2000s. Thank you Social Security!


Men’s Median Earnings

The earnings of American men have been stagnant for more than a generation. In 2011, men who worked full-time earned a median of $48,202, according to the Census Bureau. This was $2,411 less than the $50,613 (in 2011 dollars) earned by their counterparts in 1973–the year men’s earnings peaked.

Median Housing Value: $173,600

The median value of owner-occupied homes fell to $173,600 in 2011, according to the American Community Survey. This is down from a median of $185,600 in 2010 (in 2011 dollars)–a 6 percent decline. Since 2007 when the median was $210,800, median housing value has fallen 18 percent.

Married Couples: The 49%

Only 49 percent of the nation’s households are headed by married couples, according to the 2012 Current Population Survey, down from 53 percent in 2000. Here are the numbers (in 000s) and percent distribution of households by household type in 2012:
  • Total households: 121,084 (100%)
  • Married couples: 58,949 (49%)
  • Female-headed families: 15,669 (13%)
  • Male-headed families: 5,888 (5%)
  • People living alone: 33,189 (27%)
  • People living with nonrelatives: 7,389 (6%)

Households with Children in 2012 

Only 32 percent of the nation’s households included children under age 18 in 2012, according to the Current Population Survey, down from 36 percent in 2000. Nuclear families (married couples with children under age 18) now account for only 21 percent of households. Here are the numbers (in 000s) and percent of households with children under age 18 in 2012:

  • Total households: 121,084 (100%)
  • Total households with children: 38,476 (32%)
  • Married couples with children: 25,114 (21%)
  • Female-headed families with children: 10,380 (9%)
  • Male-headed families with children: 2,982 (2%)

Household Size Falls to Record Low 

Although there has been a lot of talk about the crowded nest in the wake of the Great Recession, in fact average household size fell to a record low in 2012. According to the Census Bureau, only 2.55 people live in the average American household. The previous low was 2.56 people per household in 2007 and 2008. Behind shrinking household size is the aging of the population. On average, Americans are getting older, and older people are most likely to live alone. Overall, 13 percent of people aged 15 or older live by themselves, but among people aged 65 or older the figure is 28 percent.


The number of single-person households expanded to 33.2 million in 2012, a record high and 2 million more than before the Great Recession in 2007. Not only is the aging of the population driving the increase in single-person households, but the rising fortunes of the elderly are also behind the increase. Householders aged 65 or older were the only ones to see their median household income grow during the past decade.

What Is the Middle Class? 

A shrinking share of Americans call themselves middle class, according to a Pew survey. In 2012, only 49 percent of people aged 18 or older identified themselves as middle class, down from 53 percent in 2008. And just what is the middle class, dollar wise? Among those who identify themselves as middle class, it is a median income of $70,000 for a family of four.


The Growing Lower Classes

Nearly one-third (32 percent) of Americans say they are in the lower or lower-middle classes, according to a Pew Research Center survey, up from 25 percent in 2008.


By age, the lower class is largest among young adults. Fully 39 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds say they are lower or lower-middle class, up from the 25 percent who felt that way in 2008. In contrast, only 20 percent of people aged 65 or older say they are lower or lower-middle class–about the same as in 2008.


By race and Hispanic origin, the percentage who say they are lower or lower-middle class has expanded the most among Hispanics (rising from 30 to 40 percent between 2008 and 2012) and non-Hispanic whites (rising from 23 to 31 percent). Among blacks during those years, the figure has remained stable at 33 percent.

These are a sampling of posts published in the past few weeks in Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog. Please send questions or comments to


The percentage of Americans who expect to retire at age 66 or older climbed from 23 to 44 percent between 2000 and 2012.


2. Q & A

Why Do More Have Health Insurance?       

Here’s something to cheer about: the percentage of the American public without health insurance is falling.


In 2011, 15.7 percent of the population did not have health insurance, down from 16.3 percent in 2010–a statistically significant decline, according to the Census Bureau. This decline occurred despite the struggling economy and the continuing loss of employment-based health insurance.


More Americans have health insurance because government programs are covering an expanding share of the population. Medicaid (health insurance for the poor) covered 16.5 percent of the population in 2011, up from 15.8 percent in 2010. Just as significant is the growing percentage of Americans covered by Medicare (health insurance for people aged 65 or older). Now that the baby-boom generation is crossing the age-65 threshold, millions more are becoming eligible for Medicare each year. Between 2010 and 2011, the percentage of the population covered by Medicare climbed from 14.6 to 15.2 percent.
This figure will rise steadily for the foreseeable future.
The decline in the share of the population without health insurance should not lull us into thinking that somehow our problems have been solved. In fact, the percentage of Americans with employment-based health insurance–the backbone of our private health insurance system–continues to erode. The percentage fell slightly between 2010 and 2011 and since 2000 has fallen by a full 10 percentage points, from 65.1 to just 55.1 percent.


By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications. Questions or comments, please contact


Median earnings of college-educated men aged 25 to 34 who work full-time: $52,596.

Source: The Millennials, 5th edition

3. Cool Research Links

To keep up-to-date on ever-changing demographics and lifestyles, check out these useful links.


History of Student Loan Debt–in Charts

Check out the nifty interactive charts at this Student Loan Debt History site created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The charts show total student loan debt, average loan balance, number of borrowers, and proportion of loans 90+ days delinquent for total borrowers and borrowers by age. The data are shown by quarter from the first quarter of 2005 through the first quarter of 2012. According to the charts, borrowers aged 30 to 39 have the highest average student loan balance, owing $28,906 in the first quarter of 2012, up from $20,047 in the first quarter of 2005.


Job Tenure Is Rising  

As the labor force ages, employee tenure is rising. The median number of years wage-and-salary workers have been with their current employer climbed from 4.4 years in 2010 to 4.6 years in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job tenure is rising the most among workers aged 65 or older, climbing from a median of 9.9 years in 2010 to 10.3 years in 2012 as boomers postpone retirement. A decade ago in 2002, the median tenure of workers aged 65 or older was just 8.6 years.


Public Schools: Fantasy vs. Reality

Once again we get a chance to see that America’s public schools are not so bad after all. Every year the PDK/Gallup poll of attitudes toward public schools reveals the big disconnect between fantasy (public schools are bad) and reality (public schools are good). If you ask Americans what grade they would give the nation’s public schools, three out of four say they would give the schools a grade of C, D, or F. But if you ask parents with children in public school what grade they would give the public school their oldest child attends, fully 77 percent would give the school a grade of A or B.


Percentage of people aged 55 to 64 who take care of pets on an average day: 20%.

New for 2012 – all-new and expanded one-stop resources for understanding who American consumers are, how they live, and how they spend their money.


Demographics of the U.S. 

The new fourth edition of Demographics of the U.S.: Trends and Projections is a unique source that documents the many important socioeconomic trends from 1950 through the first decade of the 21st century. The 4th edition includes 2010 census data as well as comprehensive coverage of historical statistics, including single-year data on many topics such as births, school enrollment, homeownership, employment, living arrangements, and geographic mobility. New to this edition is a look at household spending with an analysis of trends before and after the Great Recession.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-02-3) 544 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-03-0)


The American Generations Series

Each of the four volumes in the just-updated American Generations Series provides an in-depth look at the demographic and lifestyle data most important for researchers who want to understand how each generation is changing and what to expect in the future. New to these editions are all-important 2010 census population data, the latest homeownership rates, trends in household spending and wealth since the Great Recession, and labor force statistics with projections to 2020.


The new fifth edition of The Millennials: Americans Born 1977 to 1994 provides a demographic and socioeconomic profile of the generation that is aged 18 to 35 in 2012. Included in the book is a special section about the iGeneration–children under age 18 and their parents.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-02-3) 544 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-03-0)


The new seventh edition of Generation X: Americans Born 1965 to 1976 tells the story of the small but vital generation spanning the ages of 36 to 47 in 2012. No generation has been hit as hard by the Great Recession as Gen Xers. This reference shows you how their socioeconomic status has changed and how they are coping.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-04-7) 354 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-05-4)


The new seventh edition of The Baby Boom: Americans Born 1946 to 1964 is a definitive reference by Cheryl Russell, a nationally recognized authority on the Baby Boom. In it, Russell analyzes the demographic and spending data you need to fully understand this huge and influential generation whose top concerns are financial security, health care, and retirement.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-06-1) 334 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-07-8)


The new seventh edition of Older Americans: A Changing Market includes the latest statistics on the health, living arrangements, incomes, spending, and wealth of the 55-or-older age group. Because the economic downturn has hurt many older Americans, an understanding of their wants and needs is increasingly vital to both businesses and government. Older Americans tells you what you need to know about this market.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-08-5) 388 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-09-2)


Order all four editions in the newly updated American Generations SeriesThe Millennials, Generation X, The Baby Boom, and Older Americans-and save!

Hardcover: $365.00 (978-1-937737-14-6)

Paper: $265.00 (978-1-937737-15-3)


For your convenience, all of New Strategist’s titles are available as searchable single- and multiple-user pdfs linked to spreadsheets of each data table so you can do your own analyses and create PowerPoint presentations.


Percentage of people aged 65 or older who think science makes our way of life change too fast: 56%.

Source:  Older Americans, 7th edition